RIP Rescapement 🪦
Turning the page to a new chapter
I’m joining Hodinkee full-time. It means Rescapement is being retired. I always hated the name anyway. Here’s the announcement from the big H:
“We love Tony's voice. His lack of pretense. And his curiosity. He's the kind of writer willing to rummage around in corners of the collecting world, from 1990s IWC to the Exaequo Softwatch. From now on, he'll be doing that for us. Rescapement will retire, and the only place to read Tony's work will be here on HODINKEE.”
This newsletter will turn into my personal portfolio site; I’m changing the URL to tonytraina.substack.com.1 I’m going to change the @rescapement Instagram to my personal (watch) account, and that’ll be the best way to follow me personally on a week-to-week basis (in addition to the Hodinkee app, of course).
So what will this be?
Simple: I’ll send out an email every month or so with excerpts of my best writing over at Hodinkee, and maybe a behind-the-scenes anecdote that may not have been fit for a final edit, or an unsolicited rec (today: RoadRunner, the Anthony Bourdain documentary on HBO Max). It’ll be short and unpolished, like sending a Christmas newsletter to old friends and family (that’s you all!). A way to communicate personally in a way that’s just a little longer form than Instagram.
Okay, that’s the lede. But how did I get here?
While this newsletter has always been driven by my own voice, I’ve kept my own story and identity at arm’s length. Not totally anonymous (after all, I’ve published at Hodinkee and other publications under my name), but I tried to separate it out. Going full-time into watches, that won’t be the case anymore.
A few years ago, I started this little watch blog/newsletter as a passion project. I was a tech and media attorney by day, but wanted to do some creative writing too. I had gotten into watches while looking for something nice to wear on my wedding day (Nomos Tangente, thanks for asking), and it seemed like there wasn’t enough interesting writing about watches to go around. (Flipping through old family photos recently, I did notice I’m wearing a watch in most of them — nothing special, mostly Timexes or Casios — so it seems my fascination with watches started long before this.)
Back when I started, I often got a why-so-serious? vibe with a lot of content. Collectors more concerned with matching their cashmere with their chronograph hand than they were with loosening up a bit.2 Sure, I love the history of watches and rattling off reference numbers, but I never let that get in the way of having a good time. And I loved other things about watches too: design, culture, collectors, Kanye.
More importantly, I’d always loved writing: I worked for my student newspaper in college and was an editor for the law review at Northwestern.
For the first few months, I’d publish a weekly newsletter with some thoughts on watches. Sometimes interesting, sometimes not.
Then, the pandemic happened. Suddenly stuck at home, I had more time to write about watches. For the first time, I had “internet friends.” People I knew only through the internet and exchanging texts and DMs. Rescapement started to grow too. I started freelancing for places like Highsnobiety, A Collected Man, and Hodinkee. I attended my first watch auction in person (the one with the Tiffany Nautilus, no less). Rescapement climbed to nearly 10,000 subscribers, and the website was getting 100k+ views a month; I had advertisers every week and had a big brand lined up for this fall. But I was still a full-time attorney. I had to say no to amazing opportunities in the watch world just because I didn’t have the time.
Then, Hodinkee came knocking with the opportunity to go full-time into watches. Quitting the comfort of a job at a big law firm — a job I’d studied for years to get and many law students would kill for — was the hardest professional decision I’ve had to make yet. Sure, Rescapement was on a steady upward trajectory, but it was a slow burn. As I started selling advertising, I realized that was basically an entirely different skill set that required just as much time as putting out a quality newsletter on a weekly basis.
At times, it felt like the rest of the watch world was passing Rescapement by because I could only dedicate a few hours to it every week. I didn’t want to wait anymore. And I generally hold the belief that big changes that you actively choose tend to turn out better than just letting life happen to you. If you’re making an active choice to do something that seems crazy, you’ve probably at least thought about it a lot.
As an attorney, I pretty much knew what the next 15 years of my life could’ve looked like. Meanwhile, Hodinkee literally didn’t exist 15 years ago, and the watch industry was a wildly different place. So who knows what they’ll look like in another 15 years. But I’m excited to help shape the future of both now.
It was actually more difficult than I thought it’d be to quit my job as a lawyer. Sure, Hodinkee is every watch nerd’s dream job, etc. etc., but I’ve dedicated the last eight years of my life to becoming an attorney, so it was difficult to put that in the rearview.
But I love watches, and I love writing about them even more, so here we go.
So what will I be covering at Hodinkee? More of what you’ve come to know here, but better. Rummaging around the corners of collecting, as the Hodinkee announcement put it, is as fun a phrase as I’ve seen, and with the support and resources of Hodinkee, I’m excited to pursue new stories and angles. I really fell into watches when I discovered vintage; recently, I’ve enjoyed discovering the corners of neo-vintage watchmaking and independents too. I love pulling on the thread of traditional watchmaking, from Breguet to now. I also find collectors and collecting fascinating. Why did you buy this? Or an example in every series of that?
I’ve been following Hodinkee since its early days, and its original ethos still resonates with me. It’s how I found vintage watches. Hodinkee was some outsider infiltrating the weird world of watches, excited to share all the things it discovered along the way. It pulled on that thread of traditional watchmaking and collecting — and still does — like no one else. The artisanship; slowing things down; making sh*t the “right way,” whether it’s a million-dollar Patek or just a well-framed watch ad. That’s what I hope to continue to contribute to its pages.
Before we say goodbye to Rescapement, here’s a post-mortem of random observations and things I learned in 3+ years of writing this newsletter (RIP):
It’s a hits (and Rolex) business. Rescapement grew the most when I published in-depth articles, essays with a strong POV, or “breaking news” about Rolex (and more Rolex) and watch shortages or lawsuits. But a lot of posts just didn’t move the needle, no matter how groundbreaking I thought they were.
Social media is still king. I decided on the newsletter format because I thought it was a way to build a direct connection with readers outside of social media. It was also a way to alleviate the pressure of having a blog and feeling like you should always be posting. I only hit “send” on an email when I felt like it was worthy of your inbox. It put a certain pressure on me to feel like I was consistently delivering. While the newsletter did help me build a direct connection with you all, I still needed social media to find readers in the first place. Instagram was still the biggest driver of new subscribers. If I posted something interesting that got picked up by its algorithm, I noticed an uptick in subscribers. Take a look at the top traffic sources for the newsletter below. While Google and “direct” (basically a catch-all) drive more traffic, when people found Rescapement through Instagram, they subscribed at a much higher rate:
But especially with recent changes to the Instagram algorithm, I’m glad I built a foundation of readers here who will listen to me ramble on for 2,000 words.
Win some, lose some. Every time I hit send on an email, I could expect a handful of notifications that people unsubscribed. When you’re writing a newsletter, sometimes the worst thing you can do is remind people they subscribe to this annoying thing.
Endorsements, not reach. I noticed more of an uptick in subscriptions when popular newsletters like A Continuous Lean or Why Is This Interesting featured Rescapement than when a faceless media company aggregated Rescapement in some “best of” list. This is why I continue to be bullish on newsletters (and other similar mediums, like podcasts). People feel extremely connected and trust the ones they follow closely. And if they let you in on a brand/writer/restaurant they love, you’re probably going to check it out too.
Having an identity. I like being known for certain watches that I’ve gone deep on — the vintage Tudor Ranger, the original Chopard LUC 1860, Movado M95 (though that’s thanks to earlier contributor Rich Fordon, not me), the Universal Geneve ‘Ferrovie dello Stato’ and others — it’s fun getting tagged in posts of these watches on Instagram and asked about them. Even within our niche of watches, it’s good to carve out a smaller niche of watches you’re “known for.”
You love IRL stories. Over the past year, I’ve gotten to go hands-on with a number of watches. I also got to attend watch auctions in New York, writing about 13 weird observations from attending my first in-person auction. These were some of Rescapement’s most popular stories. The newsletter always averaged 50%+ open rates, but these stories would get 60%+, in addition to driving new subscribers. This is probably why I’m most excited to join Hodinkee — I’ll have the constant opportunity to deliver these types of articles.
Next up. Two of the earliest and most frequent contributors to Rescapement were also able to make a switch into a full-time career in watches before me. I’m taking absolutely zero credit for their success (if anything, I owe them), but I’m proud that this was a small platform for others to launch a career into something they’re passionate about.
The internet is still amazing. I’ve talked about the downsides of the internet, social media, and so on in these pages before. But the reality is: I wouldn’t be making a full-time career out of watches if it weren’t for the internet. I started a newsletter with a weird name at zero followers way out here in Chicago (a long way from Geneva) and was slowly able to grab the attention of others. And while the watch world is very much a “who-you-know” business, any success I’ve had gives me hope that there’s still a meritocratic element to all this. I never reached out to Hodinkee or anywhere else begging them to read my sh*t, people just found me, slowly but surely.3 This is what makes me optimistic that "another Rescapement" is out there to be started. The internet empowers so many people to follow their passions and I think we’ve only seen the beginning of these opportunities. I hate the phrase “creator economy” because it lumps everyone from newsletter writers to viral TikTok dancers together, but the reality is the forces are the same. The most difficult part is sticking with it, even when you feel like you’re shouting into a void (to be clear, sometimes you are).
I’m going to continue to tell stories about watches in a way that’s interesting to die-hard collectors, but also helps new enthusiasts understand why watches can be special. So if you want to continue following along on my personal journey, I’ll still drop a line in your inbox every once and awhile.
I’ll see you on Hodinkee.com.
I’m working on getting Rescapement’s archives on this platform — at least the important articles — so that people can still find and reference them.
To be sure, I reached out to people all the time to ask (hopefully interesting) questions. But the point is not just asking for something, but offering something. Do that enough and it’ll pay off, because being curious and engaged always does.